Drawing by Tarah Trueblood
A team from University of North Florida on alternative spring break in Washington, DC where they discovered common values through interfaith dialogue, met and served homeless people, and took action to end homelessness.
Poetic Response by Cathy Warner
Faith is the wheel
that travels the true road
you and I spin together.
Hands clasped, destinies linked
we grasp the future outstretched
and cradle the fresh-birthed self.
Imagination binds us in possibility
hope strewn like jewels under our feet
a benediction knit in joy.
Wide-eyed we circle the sun
and everywhere love
spills from our open mouths.
Tarah Trueblood has been instrumental in the journey I’ve taken as a writer since we met in the late 1990s. Back then I was new to writing and she was newly graduated from seminary. Tarah pastored the church I attended and we used every opportunity to explore art, writing, and other forms of creativity to enrich worship and community life.
In the years since, we’ve both moved and changed careers, yet, we carve out time to visit each other once or twice a year, and that time always includes art: from visiting museums and galleries and discussing what we see, to painting abstracts using doors as a canvas, to me reading stories, poems, and essays, sometimes finished, sometimes work in progress, and receiving thoughtful generous feedback.
When my book of poetry Burnt Offerings was accepted for publication, I knew it wouldn’t be complete without one of Tarah’s paintings on its cover. She happily agreed to paint something for me, and emailed jpg’s of her work to get an idea of what I’d like. When I saw Black Over Fire I knew I’d found my cover. You can see more of Tarah's art at Trueblood Art Studio.
Visiting Tarah’s home is always inspiring: every painting is one of her own, or by an artist she knows. I was basking in the beauty on all her walls during a visit last month when I received notification that two of my poems had been selected for interpretation by visual artists in West Puget Sound region’s annual Ars Poetica event which involves gallery displays of paintings, sculpture, mixed media, and other art made in response to poetry, which is then coupled with readings throughout Kitsap County.
I shared the good news with Tarah, and out popped a thought: Wouldn’t it be fun if she and I responded to each other’s work similarly? I began snapping photos of her paintings when she pulled out a tube with drawings from her most recent art class.
She hadn’t named #HopeLooksLike yet, but I remembered seeing the photo from the trip on the UNF Interfaith Center Facebook page, and being struck by the unusual angle. The photo had been in color and one of several posted during the week, and here it was, so much bigger than a photo box on Facebook, and though it was stripped of color, the personalities of the students and their joy was even more evident in tonal shading.
Most exciting to me was that my dear friend had spent weeks drawing these figures—college students she had mentored—honoring their experience by bringing them to life on paper. Here's what she has to say about the experience:
I decided to make #HopeLooksLike as the final project in my Drawing II class at University of North Florida (UNF) where I am employed as the Director of the Interfaith Center. Because I am eligible for tuition credit as a UNF employee, I enrolled in the Bachelor of Fine Art program as a post-baccalaureate. I have enjoyed painting abstract works of art for years but have never received any formal education or training.
The goal was simply to develop my painting skills. I was terrified of taking the two drawing courses required by the program because, well, I was convinced that I could not draw. I didn’t want to be demoralized in a classroom full of traditional college-age students—who were all, undoubtedly, “real” artists. However to my astonishment and complete delight, I discovered that I can draw.
So I have put away my paints—at least for now.
I learned two amazing things about drawing. First, learning to draw is really about learning to see—not so much about the mechanical ability to manipulate your hand. Everyone sees things differently and every student in my drawing classes produced a different drawing of the exact same subject—every time. We saw the subjects differently and drew them differently.
The second amazing thing I learned about drawing is that it opens up the world of storytelling in ways that abstract art can’t—and stories are what people remember.
For our Final Project in Drawing II we were instructed to “demonstrate all that you have learned this semester by drawing anything you want.” For me, the assignment translated into this question: what story did I most want to tell about my five years at UNF?
#HopeLooksLike is THAT story.
The drawing is based on a photograph taken during an alternative spring break trip to Washington, D.C. where my role, as the faculty/staff advisor, was to facilitate group reflection at the end of each day. Some days were spent learning about homelessness: the systemic causes of homelessness; how homeless people are stereotyped and mistreated; how easy it is to fall off the economic ladder; and why it so difficult to get back on. Other days we served and met homeless people: ordinary folks who told us the very ordinary circumstances that led to their homelessness.
We realized it could happen to anyone—to us. Our hearts went out to them and we wept—with them and for them—and for our communities because we still allow people to go homeless.
A special bond develops among people who share transformational experiences like we did in 2015 on our “UNF Ospreys in Action” interfaith, alternative spring break, community service trip focused on ending homelessness. Working together like we did in those D.C. communities we can end homelessness—soon.
A few days ago, after writing home improvement articles for my local newspaper, I went to bed my brain still firing with creative juice. When I closed my eyes part of Tarah’s drawing came to my mind: the hands— outstretched from individuality to unity, from the many, one.
The image reminded me of the spokes of a wheel, and how wheels have revolutionized human life. And with the image came these words: Faith is the wheel / that travels the true road / you and I spin together.
College is (or should be) a transformational time and the language I chose celebrates these young adults bravely delving deep into their values and identities while engaging with the wider world. It’s exciting to see joy and intentionality mirrored in the faces of these future leaders. #HopeLooksLike this indeed.
I began blogging about "This or Something Better" in 2011 when my husband and I were discerning what came next in our lives, which turned out to be relocating to Puget Sound from our Native California. My older posts can be found here.